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[LBC Radio] Comment on UN poverty report

[LBC Radio] Comment on UN poverty report


I think it’s interesting that Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for The Department of Work and Pensions is considering launching an official
complaint against a United Nations report that label the government’s welfare politics a sanitised version of Victorian-era work houses. A digital sanitised version of that time in our history. The government’s initial response,
a spokesman for the government said “Really, what does £95 Million
in welfare spending tell you?” “What does the existence of, and
increase in, the state pension tell you?” That seems to be the position of the
government on this – not to deny that there is poverty, not to deny that in
some areas it is extreme, but there are two choices here, aren’t there,
for us to make assessing our nation? Is the UN right or is the UK government right? Deven Ghelani joins me, Director of the
Policy in Practice think tank. He was an architect of the government’s
Universal Credit policy. Good afternoon to you. Deven: Good afternoon. Shelagh: Who’s right? Deven: I think the report itself is fundamentally about austerity and it’s right to be critical because a huge amount of money, even if you agree with the need to make savings to pay off the deficit, the government does make choices on where they take that money from and a huge amount has been taken from some of the poorest working age families across
the UK over the last six or seven years. And some of those cuts are going to continue and really when reading the report that what I read. It’s actually a quick peek at austerity. From the government’s perspective, and certainly from Amber Rudd, I can feel that frustration because belatedly, the government is starting to put some of that money back in to some of its reforms around Universal Credit. But I guess the fact that reports like this are coming out, there’s actually a lot of the damage which has sadly already been done. Shelagh: I suppose that the
government could also argue, “We said we were going to have to
shrink the welfare state in the long term.” I don’t think it’s shrunk, has
it, across the board in that time? In some areas it most definitely has, but there comes a point, doesn’t there, if there is a stated political policy to do that, at some point it’s going to be
described as deliberate because it’s a policy. Deven: It has shrunk in some areas, but I think the ratcheting effect and what’s driving increasing benefits, the fundamentals hasn’t changed sufficiently. So if you look at why benefits have increased,
the housing benefit bill has increased substantially, it’s not actually unemployment that is
driving our high benefit bills so much. We’ve got some of the lowest levels of
unemployment we’ve ever, ever had. Shelagh: But we’ve got wage issues haven’t we? Deven: So it’s wage issues and it’s cost of living and that’s what the benefit system is starting to prop up. A lot of listeners will be relying upon housing
benefit, they’ll be getting some tax credits, and these are parts of the benefit system,
they might be called something else. But people are relying upon them
because the cost of living has gone up. And if you don’t tackle the root cause,
you’ll start to tackle high housing costs, for example, you are just going to be
spending more money on the benefit system without really improving people’s living living standards. Shelagh:
Housing, health, jobs, wages, it’s all there isn’t it? Deven: Yeah, and I think some of the false economy around some of these cuts just also needs to be considered. So taking money out of the housing benefit bill means that actually there isn’t really a link anymore between the cost of housing and the support the state gives to it, which can mean that some families are being
moved out of rented accommodation into higher cost temporary accommodation which then local
authorities might have to pay for. It can mean that some families are getting into debt which can have knock-on consequences elsewhere. I’m at a conference today and someone from a housing association was saying debt itself can trigger off depression which then triggers off
bills and costs to the National Health Service. And that’s a point that is well made, I think,
in the UN report. Shelagh: We often hear Theresa May in the Commons don’t we? In response to it, often Jeremy Corbyn making the point, but whoever makes the
point, to where she responds by saying “Universal growth.” I think they’ve got an ad out, I don’t know whether you’ve seen it in the Metro today, a several page sort of infomercial
about their take on Universal Credit, “People say that Universal
Credit is not working, it is working. It gets people back into work, it gives them a leg-up back into employment, it improves their lives.” and Theresa May constantly makes this point. Eventually though, politically if that falls on
deaf ears, surely any government has a problem? Deven: Well it’s not just about the politics for me. We work a lot on the frontline with low-income households, or the organisations that support them, and
I think Universal Credit itself, because of the bad press it’s had, it’s really been
putting some people off claiming and actually if you’re listening and you can get on to Universal Credit, it can make you better-off, for some people. So about as many people are
better-off under Universal Credit as are worse-off, again depending on your household circumstances, and it’s worthwhile checking that out. And a lot of people are delaying their
claims and that can mean they are missing out. Shelagh: For fear of engageing with it at all? Deven: Yeah, for fear of engaging with it at all because it’s got such a bad press. For me actually, some of the positivity around this campaign might mean that some people that ought to be on it, might get on it sooner
and get the support that they need. Shelagh: Ok thank you Deven. Deven Ghelani, Director of the Policy in Practice think tank.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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